9/1/09; Distance Traveled = 16.1 miles
I again sleep late; think my body is demanding extra rest and recovery in reaction to the 20 mile days. Once up, compared with how tired I was last night, I feel pretty good, and my feet evidently like the double socks; the balls are not so tender. Before long I have water cooking and am breaking camp, and then surprise, Walter walks up.
He says his moonlight hike plan didn’t work out, so he used a flashlight and made it to the campsite near Lower Palisades’ outlet sometime after 9 o’clock. “I couldn’t believe my luck, it was a really nice campsite” he says. Walter asks about the creek and water; I tell him it’s good, to follow it up a ways and he’ll find enough of a pour off to fill bottles. He heads there, I continue packing. A few minutes later I call to invite him for a cup of coffee, but he is already gone.
The sun reaches the trail shortly after I start hiking. I don’t hike long before I find Jon, his start today even slower than mine. He had a nice, well sheltered campsite; if I’d just gone just 5 minutes further. I wait and we set out together. We talk about destinations; Jon thinking beyond Pinchot Pass and me, Bench Lake.
This is a beautiful section of trail. To the right and 100’ below lies Upper Palisades Lake. Our birds-eye view reveals many campsite possibilities; it would have been nice to get here and pick one mid to late afternoon. To the left we are dwarfed by the Palisades Crest rising 3200’ to the Middle Palisades summit. The view from this angle one I’d forgotten. The trail contours around the lakes and then climbs gently through the cirque to the headwall beyond which remain only a handful of switchbacks to Mather Pass. I’m surprised how easy it seems; I’d previously hiked over Mather Pass reversing Roper’s High Route track from Glacier Lake, and based on that experience was expecting a difficult climb.
Me on Mather Pass
Walter greets us at the saddle contentedly cooking and eating breakfast. I think I’ll be quite content too when I am 69 years old and still hiking 15-20 miles a day. He plans to make it over Pinchot Pass today, shaming me. All three of us will camp somewhere in Woods Creek Canyon tonight. Jon and I leave Walter to his breakfast and continue on to tarn dotted Upper Basin.
Upper Basin is the headwaters for the South Fork Kings River. The trail here descends so gradually, only 1600’ over 6 miles to the South Fork crossing, the hiking is nearly effortless. The only obstacles are the desire to stop and look around, and frequent tributary creek crossings that build the South Fork, now running parallel to and east of the trail. Jon and I reach the South Fork crossing before noon and stop for an extended break. We eat and swim and otherwise just relax in the warm sun. I hope my lack of modesty wasn’t too offensive to others hiking by.
North from Bench Lake Trail Junction
The trail then attacks an 800’ climb to the junction with the trails to Taboose Pass and Bench Lake. From this junction are excellent views back to Mather Pass and south toward Pinchot Pass. With the toughest climb of the day out of the way the trail resumes an easy grade and we soon arrive at Lake Marjorie, a preternaturally blue body of water set against a colorful mélange of granite and orange red peaks.
We cross Pinchot Pass mid-afternoon and start the descent into Wood Creek Canyon, a major South Fork Kings River tributary, intending to camp at the lower Twin Lake about 3 miles away. A short way down weariness sets in; I don’t think I’ve ever hiked a longer 3 miles. The lake sits ¼ mile off the trail and though we watch for we never see a use trail, and end up passing it by.
Instead we find a choice secluded campsite a short way up the Sawmill Pass Trail, near the confluence of two small creeks. Here I enjoy the day’s second swim and do laundry, and apply ointment to the rash that has developed where my hip belt sits on my low back. This is the first time I’ve had this rash problem. I wore a wool shirt on last year’s Tonto Trail hike and maybe need to ditch the synthetics.
Well the big hiking days are stacking up and though I am physically able, it is clear that a weekly rest day is a better plan than stringing them endlessly back to back; the same conclusion made on my High Sierra Trail hike. A rest day however will have to wait; we want to get over Glen Pass tomorrow, and then Forester Pass on Thursday. This will set us up for a easy Friday, and weather permitting, for a camp on Mt Whitney.